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June 15, 2011 9:26 AM PDT

Seeking to contain ballooning costs, Republican governors are pressuring the Obama administration to relax federal requirements dictating how many poor and disabled people states must provide healthcare through Medicaid.

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States do not have the power to change federally established the baselines of who is eligible for Medicaid coverage, leading governors to decry what they see as an onerous federal mandate that strains their already tenuous finances. Twenty-nine GOP governors sent the Obama administration a letter asking for more flexibility, with Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi warning of Medicaid's "unsustainable trajectory."

"Aside from the full repeal of Obamacare, no issue is more important to fixing our nation's healthcare system than improving Medicaid," Republican Governor's Association Chairman and Texas governor Rick Perry wrote. "Governors must be given the flexibility to craft solutions based on their states' specific needs without constantly needing to ask the federal government for permission."

Advocates for the Medicaid recipients argue that raising the requirements for Medicaid eligibility will deprive too many people of healthcare, particularly those who have lost their jobs in the recession. A move to scale back Medicaid access would contradict Obama's push to establish universal healthcare, an overarching goal of the healthcare overhaul that is so far his signature domestic policy move. A provision in the law prevents states from making it more difficult to qualify for Medicaid, drawing the ire of GOP governors.

According to data from the National Association of State Budget Officers cited by the Washington Post, average state spending on Medicaid exceeds average spending on public K-12 education, with some states committing as much as 37.1 percent of their budgets to funding the program.

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